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Alison Goldfrapp on Tackling Pop and Working With Christina Aguilera

Alison Goldfrapp — front woman of the eponymous electronic-pop outfit — thought it was time for a change. After a long career of atmospheric albums like Felt Mountain and Seventh Tree, her latest release, Head First, takes a decidedly less abstract shape. Along with her bandmate Will Gregory, Goldfrapp merges tangible pop sensibilities with the band’s ethereal signatures. According to Goldfrapp, this musical about-face wasn’t nearly as challenging as sitting down to write lyrics for Christina Aguilera’s highly anticipated Bionic. We spoke to her about the creative process and working with a pop diva.

What does Head First mean?
It’s the song we wrote first. It has that meaning — to dive into any situation, into relationships, into anything, really. It’s about jumping into a situation without abandon, without thinking too much.

There’s an eighties sound on Head First that’s unlike anything else you’ve recorded. It even sounds a little like Pat Benatar.
I wanted to do something that was celebratory — something that had kind of a strength and directness to it, rather than a laid-back dreaminess. We wanted to get back to the fun, dance-y feeling.

Was there a particular inspiration for that?
I’ve got books and I’m constantly looking through things — something I might see in the newspaper, like a texture or a color. I think your brain is constantly collecting records of things that are really specific references. There are other things I’ve been reading, too: A lot of [Haruki] Murakami — The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Also, Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart.

It seems like you’ve been experimenting a lot within pop — apart from Head First, you’ve also been working with Christina Aguilera on Bionic. What’s different about that?
Everything, really. Because I’m not singing it, I’m not putting my heart and soul in it. When you’re singing on the record, feelings are a very physical thing, an emotional thing. It’s very personal. It’s your voice, I guess. You put that out of the equation and that makes a huge difference. Everything about it is completely different.

It’s hard to be invested.
It’s a bit like when you’re writing music for movies or something. It’s that you’re kind of giving them a flavor, saying, “Here, what do you think about this?”

How intense was that collaboration?
We wrote her songs last year and went to her studio for four days. Together, we wrote some lyrics, and she sang some of the stuff. We haven’t heard anything since. We know nothing, like whether it got finished by other producers or not. We don’t know anything.

After wrapping up all of these projects, what are you listening to lately?
When I’m at home, it’s classical music. A little bit of Chopin. And I also like silence. My friends are the ones who always introduce me to new music. The xx is one that keeps showing up. There’s a bit of Phoenix as well. And I have Hot Chip’s new album — it’s quite good.

Photo: Patrick McMullan